Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas, Present

I don't know if or when Brett and Nick are coming. And I also don't know if or when the new horse, Atlas the ram, and cart will be with him either. You can only fit so much into a truck and trailer. He called to check in while I was over at Livingston Brook Farm, enjoying their fireplace and anticipating a grand meal. We were having some of my farm's chicken, Mark's beans and potatoes, roasted carrots, and homemade cranberry sauce. It was a meal to be reckoned with and I had not reckoned since breakfast. So I was ready to eat, drink, and be merry when the phone rang.

Brett sounded happy but exhausted. He wasn't sure what to do with the calf as he had not got it to take to the bottle and he seemed to be nursing from his mother (if he was there to supervise and assist). Or, at least that's what I think he said? Between the new calf, traveling south to Cold Antler, the new horse, PHD work, a storm in the works, finding farm care for the holiday, cooking a ham on time, and everything else–he seemed a bit out of sorts. I told him to do whatever made his holiday more enjoyable for him. If that meant bringing the calf so he could keep an eye on it, do that. If it meant getting a farm sitter and leaving him there, then do that. And If it meant staying home and not worrying about anything but dinner on the table, then do that.

So I have no idea what is in store for Christmas. Brett could show up with Sadie the mare and Atlas the ram in a horse trailer, or a newborn calf. He may not show up at all too. I have a feeling he will. Over the years of knowing him I have learned one solid truth: once he decides to do something, it's getting done. My guess is he'll show up with a ram, a six-pack of stout beer, and a defrosted ham. That's Brett's story. And here is mine. I am thirty years old and feeling like the kid waiting for surprises under the tree on Christmas morning. Will I get to see a pony? A baby cow? A red shiny new horse cart? Will I get to see the ram I raised last summer? The possibilities are out there and no matter the outcome (pun ahead, sorry)— it's a Wonderful Life.

Sometimes this farm, and all it is to me, seems to be a bridge between adulthood and childhood. I mean that in the best ways possible. A place that connects me to experiences and emotions I lost long ago. We all lose them, never on purpose. You grow too thick a skin while your teens and twenties mess with you. It's self preservation. But as I get older I am learning to appreciate a little wonder and naiveté. It may be dangerous at times, even reckless, but it keeps me feeling alive.

Excited for Christmas morning at thirty? You better believe it.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nick (In Brett's Cabin)

Winter Clothesline

Nicolas & Mum

So McLeod named this little fellow Nick. He's a day-old Highlander bull calf and doing well. He pulled through this morning and Brett got the new mother to let him nurse a bit. If she keeps up the good work he may not have to bottle feed Nick at all. It's still a bit dodgy. A bull calf under the wood stove may still be a possibility. Between the negative temperatures in the Adirondacks and the new mother's flaky caregiving, Brett may feel a lot better having the little guy warm and on a feeding schedule.

To be perfectly honest, I have my heart set on it. I would love to turn the living room into a bovine nursery and bottle feed a red-haired fuzzball while watching old Christmas movies. Between that, horseback riding, hitching up Merlin to a harness, and snow in the forecast this is turning out to be a Christmas for the books!

The Christmas Calf

I got a call from Brett this morning. He was out doing chores, checking on the horses, when he found a brand new Highlander Bull Calf laying wet in the snow. The heifer he recently bought was pregnant, he knew that, but he was told she was due in the spring…

He saw that the calf needed help. The mother wasn't being very attentive and he didn't want to lose him. He brought the little guy inside, cleaned him up, and jumped in the truck to get some emergency calf nutrition at Tractor Supply. If the bull calf pulls through, he will be a bottle calf. A bottle calf can not be left alone while the farmer goes off to have fun kicking his heals up with horses and friends...

So here's where the story gets interesting. Brett is still coming for Christmas. He's just going to bring the calf with him if the little guy pulls through. Being a newborn and on a strict bottle schedule we'll just set up a spot for him in the house. I have gates and a tarp. My floors are linoleum and I have a shovel. So this year there will most likely be a highlander calf in the house with us, drinking from a 2-liter bottle and mooing right under the lit up tree…

Choir of the Bells!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Scottish Lumberjack's Stocking

Brett raises Scottish Highland Cattle. A long-haired, ancient breed of beef. They are his main livestock on his Adirondack farmstead, along with some sheep and He's also a bonefide lumberjack. It seemed fitting that his stocking feature a blue ox. I just wanted to make sure that Babe was in the proper visage for a Lumberjack named McLeod.

Brett is coming down to Cold Antler for the Holidays. He's bringing his new mount, Sadie (I think he named her Sadie?) the Amish Standardbred. Brett, Patty, Mark, and I will all be out for a Christmas ride and drive with the horses and feasting on our own home-raised hams and roasting birds. There are no barns to raise, fences t build, or roofs to repair. All the four of us plan on doing is enjoying each other's company, our horses, the holiday, and a few adult beverages.

Lamb is also on the menu, I wish it was one of mine, but its from a local farm. I just couldn't slaughter Monday. He's remaining on staff to breed future lambs and be a farm mascot. He has no idea how lucky he is because a cream-sauce braised lamb of leg might be worth the guilt...

First Light, First Snow

I woke at first light to see the roads outside my bedroom window turning white. Compared to the living earth—which is warm in comparison to slabs of pavement—they were a sharp contrast to the breathing mud. It was as if someone had turned my mountain into a game board with a definite track to move pieces along. It was a happy scene, those lovely, portentous roads. I sprang out of bed and checked the weather update.


Just a few inches, but the forecast was calling for inches. I was hoping for this, having done some preparing the night before. I was worried if I got the farm too ready for a snow day I'd junk it. Like Hemingway said, "You lose it if you talk about it," and we all know that's true. Anticipation can be a jinx. If you set aside a ready-to-brew pot of coffee the night before, pick out a book or favorite movie, and volunteer the crock pot for a snow day feast…. it rains. So last night all I did was chop some dry kindling and set it in a metal sap bucket by the wood stove. A humble gesture. Letting Winter know if she wanted to consider precipitation, I could too.

I did the morning chores with Gibson and by the time the hour's work was done the wet grass was collecting white flakes. When the last job was completed and the sheep were eating their hay in a circle of ovine conversation there was enough for G and I to leave tracks. I love snow, but I think I love those hours of the first snowfall most of all. This morning there are errands to run and work to do but for the now all I plan on doing is sipping a cup of hot coffee, lighting a fire, and reading about someplace in a novel. This is how I travel now. I could't be happier with it.

The the world didn't end. Shucks, the power didn't even go out. And of course it didn't. Why would anyone think the world would end on the Winter Solstice? I have respect for he Mayan people, but that was a true act of confundity. The Solstice is one of our oldest holidays of hope - the literal return of the sun. For thousands of years people of so many cultures and religions have organized all of their celebrations of rebirth, hope, and light at this time. What a beautiful thing we have done, too. For all our faults, human beings decided to place the largest holidays of warmth and kindness is the darkest times of the year. Sorry my ancient friends, if you wanted to end it all you should have planned it for April.

But Yuletide is for hope. And I hope all of you are looking forward to time with your beloveds and friends as the light returns. These next few days are for rest and celebration. Savor them.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Safe As Houses

When I woke up this morning to the howls, literal howls, of intense wind—I didn't think the world was coming to an end—but I did think a few days of electric use would...

I love this mountain home. It's safe, sustainable, and protected the best way a home can be. There's windbreaks, fresh water, and high enough on a mountain that water still needs to run downhill so flooding is nearly impossible. I don't live near any volcanoes, or on top of any fault lines. There's a forest full of game, and farm fields far as the eye can see. For someone who lives a Hobbit Life like me, it's darn near Xanadu. But if you want to live in a homesteader's dream spot it means giving up some things, too. For me, that means reliable electricity. If a tree moves in the wind you can pretty much count on losing power.

Cold Antler Farm is halfway up a mountain. The power lines have to compete with elevation, trees falling, snowy branches, and all the complications that go with it. These aren't complaints. (I'd rather have a stream than reliable electric power any day of the week) but I did want to check in with you folks before the 55+ MPH forces came through. The e-reader and cell phone is charged, and my landline and books don't need to be charged. My 1970's GE plastic wall phone just needs a phone jack to work, no electric plugs. When I lose power I almost always still have a phone.

In the summer power outages are just an inconvenience. In the winter they can be dangerous. After my first winter here I knew I needed to get the house off oil heat and its electric furnace as the main source of comfort. Two wood stoves now keep the place comfortable, and downright too-hot for comfort some evenings. If the power does flick off a few days, even in the dead of winter, the house stays warm and has a cooking top and oven with the Bunbaker, which is a blessing in such events. To cook without having to worry about propane fumes or gas smells, right in your living room, divine! I've made pies, pizza, bread, and even roasted a chicken in my wood stove. I've cooked eggs and made coffee and toast on the top. If the electric well stops pumping there is still an overflow artesian well for the animal's water that will run, and if that stops there is a cold mountain stream right through the property. It's a pain to boil the water 15 minutes to purify it for human use, but the animals drink from the stream all the time without complaint.

I suppose the point of all this is my home makes me feel safe. It's set up to take care of me, and mine, and not just with walls and livestocks and gardens, but things like resources and location. If you're looking into property make sure you are considering things like fresh water sources and what other natural resources are around you. I can say that even just after a few years of living here I have weathered a handful of blizzards, hurricanes, deep freezes, heat waves, drought and all sorts of wonky climate snafus. It's stood the test of time since the Civil War. If if can get through all that and still put up with me and this messy life, I think it earns some proper cred.

If you don't hear from me the rest of the day, you know why! The world didn't end. Nature just wanted to keep me on my toes.

P.S. Happy Solstice, the days get lighter from here on out. More on that happy event later! For now, burn those bayberry candles, light the Yule Log, and enjoy the feast!

Barn Tour!

Thursday, December 20, 2012


I asked this question today on my Facebook page and the response was so interesting. If you were told that tomorrow you could start a new life would you? The situation is as follows:

If you could give up all of your electronic entertainment in exchange for freedom from all personal debt and a life of physical labor outdoors, would you do it? The conditions are as follows:

You join a quasi-communal society where you work 10 hours outside six days a week (off holidays) doing hard, physical labor in a farming setting. Things like plowing, construction, livestock work, weeding, planting, shearing sheep and traveling distances to deliver messages by horse or foot. You do not receive a wage, as meals are prepared communally and your family's house is rent free. You basically work for room and board with the same people you share a house with now, but you each get a $200 a month stipend at the local bookstore to buy whatever books you want. Your evenings are your own. You can read novels, learn spanish, start a chess club, join a music group, or take on a apprenticeship with a craft or trade of your choice. There are no rules about religion and are free to believe as you wish. It is a democracy, where new leaders are voted every three years. This is your new life.

What you give up are things like television, the internet, email, cell phones, and outside communication by electric means. You can write distant family and friends letters, but can't travel to see them (they can come see you). So you get a life free of a desk job and stress from money, but you give up flashy entertainment, travel, and long-distance communication that isn't a letter.

Would you do this? Why? Why Not?

Welcome Amazing Graze Farm!

I'd like to take a moment to welcome the newest sponsor to the blog, Amazing Graze Farm! (How great of a name is that?!). Amazing Graze is the joint effort of a couple who both started out as city kids and ended up happy homesteaders. They raise their own meat and dairy, and host a big garden. They loved teaching their friends and customers how to mill grain, can, and make butter but quickly learned they were sending them off to other folks to buy supplies. So they started a General Store, mostly quality hand tools, things you won't find in your local kitchen store. They are a bonefide little mom and pop and sell everything from hair clips to wooden spoons. Check them out at and say hello from me when you do! It is folks like them and readers like you that keep this little mountain farm pumping along.

Welcome to the farm, Amazing Graze!

Barn Tour!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Running With Animals

I took Annie out for a long walk today. Well, relatively speaking. It was a long walk for her compared to the ones she has been on recently. For the past year or so walks were set to a half mile since that was all Jazz could manage. Today we did a mile and a half, most of it uphill and at a pace that had us both panting by the time we returned to the farm. In the foggy weather it was invigorating, we even jogged a bit. All that moisture in the air keeping us hydrated and warm. It felt good to run aside a wolf again.

Annie is far from a wolf, but she looks the part. She's eighty pounds of fur, fat, and muscle in a wolf gray coat. She has those prick ears and dark brown eyes and a big open face that looks like a slightly tamer version of her wild relatives. She did well out there on our path. We are so much alike, us two. A little wild and a little too well fed, but hungry for what calls to us. We were a good team out there, getting in shape and feeling our hearts beat faster.

When Annie was tuckered out I let her inside to drink water and nap with Gibson and then walked out to the far pasture to halter Merlin. We tacked up and went for a quiet ride down the mountain road. No goals or training tasks in mind. I just wanted to be on the back of a horse, breathing slow and steady, and thinking about the past week. There was a lot to think about.

I am very much at peace with the decision I made for Jazz. But the lack of him in the house is disorienting. I still call out for him when I grab Annie's leash to go for a walk. I have been walking them together for seven years and old habits die hard. Annie sleeps by the front door a lot. I don't know if it's because she is waiting for his return or because she has been confined to the living room/kitchen with a dog gate (Jazz had some accidents and I wanted to keep him on the non-carpeted areas of the house) and this was off limits before. The front door is the draftiest and coldest place in the house. She could just prefer air conditioning. Either way when I see her there I think of the former. I think about Jazz a lot. Some things can't be helped.

It's almost the end of December. I'm not worried about the Mayans or Chase Bank (far scariest to me), but I do worry about other things. I thought about those things as I turned Merlin back towards the farm and let him run home. As he stretched out his thick legs, reaching for his place of comfort and rest, I tried to stop thinking about them. You can lose it for a little if you know where to hide. If I can find that place in the saddle on a running horse it goes away. So I sank into my seat, my ass a dead weight naturally moving with the hind of the horse. I let my heals drop, my shoulders relax, and I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Before I knew it we had loped home and I was sitting on his back, he standing still in front of the black horse head post Merlin knows is his parking space. It worked. the whole time I was free.

I ran with a wolf, I rode a fast horse, and tonight I'll try to let those moments beside my animals help me stop thinking about the mistakes of the past few years. It's hard. But if there is one thing Jazz's passing truly taught me. Our time is so very short here. Try and run fast while you can. And be grateful every time you aren't running alone.

Thank You!

Thank you to all of you who mailed cards, canned treats (Got the tomato jam, TF!), cookies, gifts, donations and other wonderful messages and comments to the farm. Thank you to all those silent readers who click on the blog ads or support the sponsors. It is things like this that keep me going. And thank you to everyone who is quietly keeping track of me, I appreciate you as well. The holidays are always made better by the support of this community. I see you in my inbox, at workshops, events, and in my mailbox outside. I saw a box of cookies at Battenkill Books yesterday mailed by one of my readers and I beamed with pride in the kindness and love of you folks. You mean the world to me. You're the only reason I am here, living this life.

You may not realize it, but little things like just keeping up with me and shooting the occasional comment or email have such a power of encouragement and validation. If I don't reply, trust me, it is simply from a lack of time and resources to do so, but I read them all and am very very grateful.

I wanted to share this little gift mailed to me from a reader down in Pennsylvania. She sewed up a Maude Stocking! It has that same look of disdain and boredom that I have seen on that horrible ewe every day since I brought her to my farm. I love that sheep, so much. I think this is hilarious and it is hanging over my wood stove!

I showed it to Maude. This was her reaction.

Home on the Mountain

This is my home on a mountain. We're entering this Holiday Season still thick in the Days of Grace. For those of you new to the blog, the Days of Grace is a time in the farming calendar after all the fireworks of fall leaves have gone and before the landscape is covered in snow. Some call it Stick Season. Other's call it miserable. I like the idea of the Days of Grace, and what it stands for. It's your last chance to fix fence posts before they freeze solid into the earth. The last chance to repair the horse cart or tractor and put it away for a winter slumber (if you're not plowing snow with it). And it's finally time that the work of the garden and canning is behind you. Most farms that aren't a Dairy are quiet this time of year. Chores are basic: feeding and comfort-related. It's a time for fatter wallets and fatter waistlines. As the saying goes, happiness weighs more.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Suggest a Name!

Brett just bought a new Standardbred Mare from an Amish family north of his farm. She's four, and a great driving horse! He is thrilled with her, and sent along their picture. One bad thing, though. She came with the name "Princess" and he wants some help changing it. He thought the community here may have an idea or two. His only requirements are that the name reflect her gender, Amish heritage, and be a little old fashioned. I think he should just call her Dutch.

My Good Boy

Yesterday morning I helped Jazz into my truck and drove the mile to our vet's office. I knew it would most likely be his last ride in the truck. After months of decline, painful spinal arthritis, infections, and being pushed around by the other dogs I knew it was time to let him go. The last three nights before his death I was woken up in the middle of the night by his yowls of pain, and the night before I stayed up with him, falling asleep on the floor by his side. I knew, that night, that the vet would be called first thing in the morning.

The vet fully supported the decision. She was wonderful, telling me a story about a Buddhist and her dog and offering tissues and water. The work of ending his life did not take long. He passed peacefully on the office floor, my face buried in the rough of his neck as the vet delivered the heart-stopping syringe. As he was fading the vet told me to tell him how much I loved him, and all I could say was "he knows" and then he was still. When it was all over, the staff gave me a few moments with his body and then told me they would mail me the bill.

I drove home with just his collar and leash. His body remained behind and would get a private cremation later that week. I didn't feel guilty, just hollow. As if someone just took away the ability to feel or react. I looked at the empty passenger side, and the window. On the short ride down Jazz was leaning painfully against it, his eyes glazed over. I then realized I should have cracked the window, or opened it so he could feel the fast air on his face one last time. I didn't think of this one kindness, and broke down into a kind of cry that doesn't let you drive.

After college I was offered a job in the Urban South. I was leaving behind family, friends, and 22 years in the Northeast, which was the only place I knew as home. I had only been on my own two weeks before that wolf was my roommate. I adopted Jazz in 2005 from Tennessee Sled Dog Rescue, outside of Knoxville. I went there with the full intention of taking home a malamute, not a Sibe. Malamutes were my dream dogs, a manifestation of adventure and independence from a childhood of reading Jack London novels. But when I pulled into the driveway of the kennel I saw a flash of red running down the hill. I can still see that powerful blur of color in the rainy mud. A lone Siberian Husky in a sea of giant Alaskans. After looking at dozens of young Malamutes, it was the six-year-old red dog that I wanted to meet. He had been following me around the kennel for the entire tour, his yellow eyes glowing behind a smile. I had never seen a more beautiful and calm animal that looked so wild. He laid down in my lap and was mine. I took him home in my new (to me) silver Subaru Forester.

He was with me through moves of five states. He hiked with me through the Smoky Mountains, pulled me through the wilds of Idaho in a dogsled, Drove on cross country road trips to Pennsylvania, walked aside goats and geese in Vermont, and came of an old and beloved age here in New York. He went from a pet to just a natural part of my life, the care of him as normal as showering or starting up the truck - actions you do without thinking of them as a burden. Jazz was never a burden. For seven years he was my dog. He was family.

This Video was made in 2009, right when I was at my most scared for the the farm. That winter of 2009/2010 I was told I was being kicked out of the cabin in Vermont and had to find a new place for the animals and I. I was broke, worried, and so emotionally invested in agriculture and writing as my calling I refused to give them up. I was certain of just two things: I needed to keep the farm going, and I had no idea how to pull it off. I made it. Jazz was there through it all.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Stay with me, my good boy.
I loved you every minute of your life.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Happy Trails

I will always love riding horses more than driving them, but getting in a cart is its own sort of happy. What I love about having a cart horse is I can share horses with so many people. Few people can come to my farm with their own trailer and horse and join me for a mountainside ride through woods and field, but anyone can sit in a horse cart. When I can get ahold of a 2-person cart or cutter I'll be so thrilled to take folks out for a ride when they visit.

Fells and other British Mountain ponies are the horses for me. I hope to own many in this beautiful life. Merlin and I are a team for now, but in the next five years I'd like to add a second, younger pony. A Fell would be ideal but a Dales, Connemara, Galloway, Highland, or any thicker sort of draft pony could melt my heart. Though, to be 100% honest, I think I will always want a long-maned Crow Black Fell pony in my pasture. When something feels right, you stick with it.


Snow is just starting to fall here. I'm watching it from my office window, a little tired from morning chores. In my hand is a green clay mug of warm oatmeal spiked with apple and maple. When I came inside from the first leg of morning work I was famished. So I cut up a Honey Crisp that had been renting space a bit too long in the cupboard. It was just starting to soften, perfect! I threw the chunks of raw apple into boiling water for a lobster-style death before adding the porridge. I added a tiny bit of brown sugar, cinnamon, and maple syrup and ended up with a meal worth staying indoors for. Every bite of apple is soft, at first, but follows up with a crisp center of naturally tart sugars and spices. (That's what the flash boiling did, just partially cooked it.) I'm chew in savoring bites while watching the geese waddle from the barn to the artesian well. They seem to not mind the occasional flake sticking to their down before sliding off. I feel the same way this morning. Most of the chores and feeding are done, but I'll head out there soon after a big glass of water. I still need to bring in firewood and the kindling bucket. I also need to fill up any water sources and do a double check before I retire to the house for a few hours.

Today is all about rest. I have been out on all sorts of adventures these past few days. Friday I drove Merlin on a six-mile road trip with Patty and Steele. It was such a wonderful time, even though some of it was a struggle for me. I could not keep Merlin on the right side of the road, he kept fighting me to track left. Patty made a joke that he probably drives on the left side, sine he's British. I scoffed, thinking he was just being a bossy pony. But when I let him have the left side of the road on a long, safe stretch he drove straight as an arrow in a parade.


Merlin came back home Friday night. Jasper could not have been happier. I'm so glad those horses are here to stand up on that hill outside my kitchen windows, walking through the snow like something out of a legend or another time. I hope to get some photos of this place all lit up and snow-covered later, before any rain steals the joy for that greedy water table.

Yesterday, as you know, was all about the hay. I'm thrilled to tell you I ended up putting away 35 bales and buying 200 pound of grain for the chickens and pigs. No animal needs anything, food wise, on this farm and I am all set to hunker down, which is exactly what I plan to do after last night's party...

Last night was my friends Jimmy and Wendy's Christmas party and it was a blast! He rented a storefront on Main Street in downtown Greenwich. There was a live folk band with some of the best fiddler's in Washington County playing carols and we all sang and toasted each others scotch, nog, or wine. I saw friends I had not seen in months. There were writers and farmers, locals and out-of-towners, and between the meatloaf buffet (as glorious as it sounds! Three types and sides!), singing, and fiddler's envy I came home singing my favorite carol, Good King Wenceslas past the trees barren and waiting for snowfall.

...When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even!
Brightly shone the moon that night!
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuuuuuoooooooellll....

I woke up with a slight hangover, but nothing hydration and some fresh air couldn't cure right quick. I've got the best medicine on my side: daylight, fresh snow, and a happy tiredness. Banks are closed, the mail does not come, and my only job is to keep the animals here safe and happy. I have a Freedom Ranger in the crock pot who will be a pot pie by nightfall. That will be the day's big accomplishment. I was going to see the Hobbit with friends but we canceled based on weather. It's not fear of bad roads keeping us indoors as much as it is a fear of missing the big show at our homes. All of us wanted to tuck in. Why ruin a day like this by driving around in it! I'm be here with my mug of oatmeal (or chicken pie) reading about Hobbits instead of seeing them in 3D. Watching the first real snowfall kiss and snuggle into every corner of a scrappy farm beats the big screen any day. And this oatmeal, Holy Crow, it sure beats popcorn

Saturday, December 15, 2012

17 Put Up So Far!

I'm invigorated by the coming snowfall! I headed out with Gibson and loaded up 17 bales and just unloaded them into the barn. Heading out for another 15 or so shortly. It felt so good to walk into that sun-dappled barn before the storm and fill a whole side wall wiht Nelson's heavy bales of beautiful second cut. In that barn chickens danced around my feet, Bonita grabbed by flannel shirt's cuff for an ear scratch, and the pigs grunted and scuffled about in their pen. I made a note to clean out the rabbits' pens this afternoon, and then came inside to a cat asleep on a sheepskin by a woodstove and happy old dogs.

Taking care of things, preparing for comfort in a storm, shucks this life makes me happy. My barn was a temple of contentment today, and by the time the snow circles around it the little yellow lamp inside will be a beacon. Enough of my gabbing, off to get more hay!

P.S. I downloaded the free trial for World of Warcraft. I love it! I was a level 12 Worgen Hunter as of last night. For someone who hasn't played any games on her computer, ever, I think that's a decent day's game! I won't be playing it today, what with this hay and holiday parties and such. The farm wins over the computer. Pigs over pixels I always say.


Making Hay (appear)

Snow is coming, honest. The weathermen are calling for a few inches and I am getting ready. I'm heading north into Hebron to pick up hay. I'm entirely out of it here, stuck in-between deliveries. So shortly I'll get into some warm clothes, defrost the truck and with Gibson riding shotgun head up the road to my hoofstock's favorite place for take out: Nelson Greene's Farm.

So being out of hay is always a little unnerving. I had plans to have a bunch delivered here last week but that fell through at the last minute. It happens. The last bales were fed this morning. The good news is it was a great year for haying and I have several sources willing to sell me as much as I can afford. With a few inches on the way it would be nice to have a few days stacked up in the barn while I wait for that month-long load to arrive in Nelson's big farm truck. If I can make two trips and get 20-30 bales stacked up today I'll fall asleep a content woman.

Today is all about putting up feed in the morning and heating up the house with the woodstove all afternoon so tomorrow and Monday I can enjoy a few days of snowfall. I'll be plenty busy with a desk-full of design job and writing waiting for me, but today is about making hay. I'm excited to get those bales loaded, and will be relieved when they are dry and set aside in the little barn making roosters happy as night perches.

Friday, December 14, 2012

road prayers

I didn't hear the news about the children in Connecticut until well into the day, and even then it came the old fashioned way: word of mouth. Mark heard it on the radio on his way home from duck hunting with a friend. He and Patty were talking about it shortly after I arrived at the farm to drive the horses one last time before Merlin returned to Cold Antler. He enjoyed his week at Horse Camp very much.

I don't have much to say beyond this. All afternoon I stayed off Facebook. I did not turn on the radio. I did not look up information online. It was not an aversion due to apathy, either. I am deeply sorry and saddened and my heart goes out to them. I stayed away from the roar of the media because there was nothing I could do but grieve and panic. I was not there to help. I did not know any of the victims. I just knew I didn't want to be one of those people with Cable News live streaming into their TVs to shout the newest updates on death tolls and motives. I do not agree with this celebrity we give to tragedy. It is news the first time you hear it, sadness and silence. It becomes pornography for the fearful shortly after.

I hitched up my horse and said a prayer.

Worgen Level 10!

I recently watched a documentary called Gamers. It focused on the types of computer games where people from all over the world (we're talking millions of people) log into one virtual world to play together. It's all in the realm of fantasy. Folks can purchase a whole new identity for a thirty-dollar box price and then every month pay a subscription to another universe. For some of these folks it was therapy. To others, their social life. To some it was an obsession as hard to crack as any clinical addiction. I've never played any of these games, shucks I never even played a round of Dungeons and Dragons, but I can understand the appeal. (Let's be honest, shooting arrows from horseback is what I do on Tuesday afternoons.) If someone told me in college I could do it from my dorm room with a million other people, I might have just.

I'm curious if any of you play these games online? Do you think they are a waste of time or another level of community? And how do they differ from following a blog like this and learning different personalities, names, and faces along the way?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Comfort & Joy

Rough Seas

I drove over to Firecracker Farm to spend some time with the Daughtons. I missed them, having not seen as much of them as I would have like this past summer. I was in love with horses and they were hard at work on their farm. With winter's rest here, the plan was to enjoy the afternoon with them, as I had a full morning of work here at the farm (and not the sort of work I like). It was a morning of bills and bank accounts. I did a lot of cringing. Nothing tragic but scary at times. When I decided to take on the self-employed life I expected days like today. Some days the sea is calm and you can almost see shore. Others days my finances are more of a storm with thirty-foot swells. Today was a swell day. I was very grateful to close down the accounting browser windows and change into an old flannel shirt and work kilt. You want some perspective on your negative bank account? Spend an afternoon harvesting meat for the table. Suddenly that little minus sign in front of a few digits seems like a lot less of a big deal. I may be in a short-term slump but at least I still have my head. Which is something I can't say that for a few Washington County rabbits…

It was a comfortably warm day out there in the county. We were blessed with clear skies blue as the birds named after it. If it wasn't for the stickily trees and the morning's frost you would think it was October. It was crisp enough of an afternoon to bite into. Or, you know, disembowel.

Cathy's 12-year-old son had his first crop of farm-bred-and-raised rabbits to slaughter today and I was asked to help out. I was happy to help them. The first few times you harvest a rabbit it's good to have more experienced hands on deck. I'm far from an expert but I can get the job done.

Together we killed, skinned, gutted and dunked four big rabbits. We did them in using the broomstick method (I killed the four while the boys watched with interest). When we had four long furry bodies on the grass we set up an impromptu abattoir in her barn and together Ian, Cathy and I went through the techniques and steps and had all the work done within an hour and some change. I know I arrived at 2PM and left before 4. That's not a bad way to spend a little south of two hours. It's not pleasant work but now her freezer has a crop of rabbit to pull out on a cold winter afternoon for stew or soup. I hope she tries Patty's Ginger Rabbit Noodle Soup. It tastes so good you'll want to buy a hutch and some timothy hay in a little bale.

They had to at least weigh in at fifteen pounds of meat altogether, if not more. I think that's grand! And as a thank you for helping out Cathy gave me a chicken from her freezer. One of the Freedom Rangers she raised for her church group this past summer. It was a payment well above the wage owed for a friendly hour of quick work but I thanked her and took it. Since her son Holden has a poultry allergy they wouldn't eat it anyway. So I was happy to oblige. I was down to my last rooster in the freezer and nothing beats free-range farm birds for flavor.

It was a long day for me, and all of this went on after a night without sleep. I think it'll be a rough few weeks leading up to the holiday season. I am a positive person, but a lot of this time of year is hard on me for reasons I don't wish to write about but aren't too hard to understand. I will look forward to all the holly and the holy up ahead these next few weeks but I sure am looking forward to that clean slate we all call January. Snow and a new year, lucky number 13. How about that?

A Friendly Reminder

Hey folks? Any of you out there that owe me a balance for a camp or workshop, please send it along via paypal. You can use the donate button on this blog, (it doesn't even require you have a paypal account). It would make a world of difference. Thank you!

Winter on the Fell

Last Chance: 24-Hour Season Pass Sale!

I am offering the Season Pass Sale for today. Email me if you are interested in coming to an entire year of workshops for a little more than the cost of Antlerstock! If you live in the same region as me (or even if you don't and love that open road!) it is a wonderful discount and a huge help for this little farm on the mountain. Come learn about dulcimers and fiddling, backyard chickens, prepping your home, knitting and spinning wool, and so much more. This is the last chance I'll make this offer this year so take me up on it, please!

Driving Forces

Merlin isn't home at the farm right now. He's over at Livingston Brook Farm having a little fun at camp while Patty and I spend some time working on our driving. It's more fun to practice and learn when other folks are harnessing up. It's also safer going out with others, and in my case, others with a lot more experience.

Yesterday a few of the Daughton boys and their mom Cathy came along and joined us for the training ride. Her homeschooled boys got a heck of a classroom that day! Little Seth and his brother Ian got to learn how to harness, ground drive, and even take the reins (under Patty's watchful eyes) and do a little driving in the buckboard. It was a cold, but beautiful afternoon and I got to watch it all happen from the rig behind them. Merlin did well and I feel like I am really starting to understand then motto of our Draft Club: The more you use them, the better they are. And the better they are, the more you use them!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Farm Seltzer

Over at Livingston Brook Farm the horses don't have water heaters. They have a bubbler. Yup, a cheap fish tank bubble filter that heats nothing at all but keeps the water moving, and discourages freezing. It costs a fraction of the electric bill and does the job. Neat idea, huh?

Gibson and the New Rooster

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Imperfect Creatures

If you don't me a year ago that I would learn to love a horse the way I have loved cats and dogs, I would have raised my eyebrows at you. It's not that I didn't respect or like horses, but I always thought of them as possessing less character than the carnivores that share our lives. More like a cow with panache. But spending so much time with him, learning his language, even simple things like running a curry comb over his furry backside teaches me something new about him every day. I discovered a personality, and quirks, and know him the way I know Jazz, Annie, Gibson and Bo. Horses have left the world of history and storybooks and the base utilitarian work they do. They've become something more. Something I never knew was there. And I learn more every single day.

Today I learned Merlin and I share the same weakness for love. We were riding out in the countryside near Livingston Brook Farm and passed a fence line with some haflingers. I suspect that at least one was in heat because Merlin changed soon as his nostrils flared. It was all I could do to stay on while he approached the fence, carrying on in loud and desperate neighs and pawing at the ground. He wanted in. He wanted in so bad I was scared to stay on his back. I leapt off and tried to pull him away and he stared daggers at me and started stomping harder. It took a bit of strong work to get him away from the estrogen but we managed. He finally joined me,looking back over his shoulder at the Austrian blondes cat calling back as we turned the corner. Walking side by side, Merlin put down his head and let out a long sigh. I knew that sigh. I sighed it myself quite a few times.

I touched his mane and his brown eyes looked over at me. If a horse can look sheepish he did. "It's okay, Mac." I told him. "I've done foolish things too when faced with attraction." Merlin didn't reply, being a horse, but I slapped his shoulder and told him one of these day's he'd get lucky. There are more mares in the world than one field in Washington County. When we both were calmed down I hopped back up into the saddle and we trotted back to the farm.

Every dog has his day. Every horse has his hormones.

The Tree is Up! The Bayberry is Burning!

I was outside in the woods behind the farmhouse with Gibson, searching the hillside for a small tree that would do. I had a hatchet in my hand and was listening to Tolkien on audiobook. It was the perfect tool and the perfect story for the job. Together, my dog and I we hiked as Bilbo and his laden pony adventured out of the Shire with a band of Dwarves and a sarcastic wizard. My company was not as grand, but GIbson was doing his best to help me cased the joint. It's a thing, isn't it, trying to find the perfect Yuletide tree? This tree would be brought inside and set in the front window. It would be covered with white lights, antlers, crows and set into a sap bucket full of rocks as a makeshift tree stand. I scanned the understory and tried to locate the perfect contender. I didn't want the fat, squat, trees you see for sale on the roadside. I was looking for a tree that was struggling. The kind of Charlie Brown, hard luck, types no one ever brings home. This was not because I was tying to be intentionally sordid. I just knew I only had one string of lights, a handful of wooden crow ornaments, and a bucket to stand it in. Anything bigger would look barren, but a scrawny tree would look grand.

When I found the winner I chopped it down and cut off the larger branches at the base. With the trunk and hatchet in my left hand, and the boughs in my right I walked home. Gibson ran past me and ran back to me, herding trees was a new thing for him and he felt the urge to excel. I couldn't hide my smile. That dog was such a beacon of light and smiles for me. When he stops dead and whirls around to face me, eyes bright and locked on mine, his mouth open in a smile I glow inside as warm and bright as the bayberry beeswax candles inside. I am getting into the holiday spirit. This past weekend there was a fun local craft fair at Beanheads, a coffee joint downtown. Cambridge Candles was there, a young couple who scrounge out local beekeepers and get the wax to make candles. I bought a whole box of bayberry and tonight the farmhouse is alive it. You walk in and all you want to do is hail wassail and eat figgy pudding.

I'm getting off track! So I took that skinny tree and brought it inside. I took the boughs I cut and set them into the old washing tub/planter by the front door. Simple little decorations, but loud in their holiday cheer. Both got a small string of white lights. Both made my farmhouse look darling.

I have good plans for the Solstice through Christmas. I will be hosting company and hoping the weather grants us some proper snow so I can really show the guests what this place can offer during the longest night of the year. If you haven't walked outside a snowy farmhouse in lantern light with a bowl full of pig scraps while singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, then you haven't lived.

It was a day of creature comforts like cutting down a tree and decorating, but also a day with some adventure. I went over to Patty's farm where Merlin is enjoying an extended visit. While Patty and Mark were at work I stopped by to enjoy our first ride together since hunting season began a month ago. Merlin let me walk up to him, halter him, and lead him to a place where I could groom and tack him up. I never rode Merlin alone on her farmland. I wasn't worried.

I should have been worried. More on Merlin and the four mares later!

What's a Homestead Supposed to Look Like?

What's a homestead supposed to look like? Is it supposed to be tidy and orderly like a theme park magazine shoot? Is it supposed to be devoid of any name brands and plastic? Should an L.L. Bean model be able to stand anywhere and create a cover shot? I guess it's up to the homesteaders who live there. My life is full and messy, and I think it is reflected in the farm. You will see constant attempts at order feverishly surrounding piles of crap. If you walk into my house I try to keep it tidy, but you walk outside and pieces of old toys from 30 years ago are sticking out of the mud, chicken poo lines the walkway steps, and random tools and feed bags litter like tumbleweeds. There are things being built, broken down, collecting dust and cutting open hands and thighs. I do my best to keep up with it, I really do. But most of the time this place looks like a scrappy farm on a mountain, and let's be honest, that is exactly what it is.

This is what the side of my house looks like. A woodpile that shares space with a clothesline outside the rain. A rain barrel collecting runoff for the livestock. A bag of feed set aside from a downpour. Strands of baling twine, axes set where they were last used, and an old boot from Idaho full of turkey feathers from a death weeks ago. Later today I'll go out there any clean things up. You can bet your bottom dollar it will look just like this again in a week. Farms inhale and exhale messes. You can only clean up those moments when you hold your breath!

And speaking of a lack of perfection! I got some emails and comments from folks about spelling mistakes and grammar on the blog. These were (mostly) kind letters and in good nature. I appreciate anyone who writes me with suggestions, taking time out of their lives to help. But I would just like to explain that the blog isn't a book, a periodical, or an online piece of journalism. Just like my woodpile, it isn't polished and dressed up. It is a living diary. Think of mistakes as little messes of literary baling twine and feathers of impulse. I try to be mindful, but there's no editor on staff here at the farm and I would hate to have one. I love being about to snap a photo, come into my office, write off the cuff and hit publish. The blog It will always display mistakes both in writing and in life. Stick around long enough and you'll see plenty of both. But you'll also see a woman just trying to make a creative, meaningful, life. That is the real point of all this. It just gets delivered as muddy as I am at times.

A Little On Ads

I have been getting questions about the types of ads on the blog. There are two types, both important to the farm. There are ones that companies go out of their way to sponsor me, folks like the JC Campbell Folk School, Will Moses, and Hoss. They pay a monthly, half-year or yearly fee to be on the blog. And then there are the text links and the square, changing ads that are from Adsense. These are the ones that count your clicks and I get a little pocket change when you go out of your way to visit this page and click on them. Both are so important to this farm staying afloat. The companies that specialize in seeds, candles, tools, and chickens - they are here because they want to be here. If you like reading CAF, they are the reason I'm not being chases away by the bank. The Google ads are here in random ways, those companies don't know they are being featured here, but you do. Participation through clicks is how they work as a form of compensation

Now, if ads both you, you can use adblock software to remove the Google ads. But the ones that are images I place in code will remain. If anyone has any further questions let me know. And if you make the choice to buy some stuff from the folks at Homesteader Supply, Scent From Nature, Rosie's or MyPetChicken (among others!) I thank you. They do, too.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Big Easy Express

Mighty Nest, Mighty Gifts

This is my first Christmas as a self-employed woman and the gifting part of the holidays is a little tighter than usual (and usual is pretty tight!) So I have resorted to a little creativity. One of my favorite small gifts for friends and invitations during the season is what I call Warmth Jars. You buy a box of new canning jars (these pictured are Weck, more on why later) and fill them with herbal tea, ground coffee, cocoa, or a candle and let the glass container itself be the wrapping. I tie it up with some twine or wool yarn, but that's as festive as it gets. The receiving party gets a utilitarian container they can use for canning in the warmer months and something they could really savor now in the chilly ones. I always fill it with shelf-storage creature comforts and let the brand-new jar be part of the gift.

So why Weck? I'm switching over to Weck for a few reasons, mostly because of their total lack of BPA. Some canning jar lids have some wicked chemicals in them but Weck jars don't use those metal lids with the rubber bands, they just use glass lids with a disposable rubber ring. They are held shut by two little clamps when they are being set into the canner. They are simple, elegant, and still different enough to give even a seasoned homesteader a little ooohhh and ahhh. I learned about these guys, and their advantages, from the folks over at Mighty Nest who I approached to be a farm sponsor.

Mighty Nest is the company that carries these Weck jars I photographed and am giving this holiday season. They are an eco-minded home goods company with a flair for style and an emphasis on family life, food, and storage solutions. As a new Cold Antler Farm sponsor I urge you to check out their site and if you have a minute, send them a thank you for keeping this place fed, paid, and trotting uphill. Folks like Mighty Nest are what keep this dream alive!

Mighty Nest has a special coupon code for CAF readers, you can use it to get 10% your order from now till Christmas. Just use: ANTLER10 at checkout. You can get the discount no matter your purchase size. But you get free shipping, too, if your order is over $25 dollars. So for around twenty bucks you can get a bunch of Weck for free shipping. That's a lot of Warmth Jars, folks….

Happy Giving!


People have been asking on Jazz, my 14-year-old Siberian. He's not doing well, not at all. He has been in and out of the vet this past year, dealing with hair loss, infections in his ear, tumors, and losing his role as dominant dog in the house to Gibson. He took the slide down the canine social ladder hard, and slinks past Gibson life a medieval serf. This is the way of dogs though. Age and infirmity are natural reasons to lose your spot as pack leader. But lately, something far more complicated than dog politics has been bothering him. He rarely moves, sleeping the entire day if you let him. He seems to have loss all interest in life, and a walk to the mailbox requires an hour rest. The vet and I are consulting.

You Get What You Get

I wish I remembered the conversation better, but it is hard to wax nostalgic on small talk when you are out in the rain, covered in horse mud, and holding a board in place while a chain saw slices into it a few feet away. I was out with two amazing friends, Brett and Elizabeth, who had donated a wet Saturday morning to put up a wall on the horse's barn. We were joking around, and the banter went something along the lines of me jabbing on Brett for his incredibly detail-oriented and frugal ethic and my membership as chairwoman of the Seat-Of-The-Pants Society. It was all in good fun, but you could tell there was an edge of frustration in my voice. My carpenter ethic isn't anywhere close to Brett's and I knew we only had two hours. Elizabeth just shrugged and told me one of the best things I ever heard about personal interaction with those you hold dear. She said, "You get what you get."

I love that. It is like an injection of sense and perspective about any person you choose to invite into your life. When you take on another life and make it part of your own, regardless if it is a friend, a significant other, an in-law or even a new pet. Folks, you get what you get. You can waste time squabbling about the little things or just sigh and accept them. Ever since Brett and I became friends we've tolerated each other's quirks and differences. And as Elizabeth put it, every so perfectly, a few moments later when Brett was watching me struggle to set a board in place (upside down), "He gets what he gets, too." I burst out laughing.

The three of us got the boards up and reinforced. The wood was maple he milled himself up in the Adirondacks. The lumber was my Christmas present, he said. talk about the apex of handmade for the holidays, the man made a barn wall! Then Brett climbed up on the roof and fixed the few stray pieces that blew off with Hurricane Sandy. By the time the three of us were done the horses had a solid roof, a windbreak built into the mountain, and all of us were dirty, sweaty, and bleeding. It was a long three hours in fine Scottish weather, but it was spent with amazing people. I am blessed to have friends that will give up their weekends to help out this scrappy farm (emphasis on the scrappy), but every weekend and every project it gets a little better. The horse paddock needs a lot of work (right now it is just mud and sagging fences reinforced with electric) but even at this bleak moment in it's history it does the job. It makes it possible for me to live with my dream horses ride them all over this mountain.

Thank you so much guys. I think that wall needs a wreath! And when the snow does fall around here the mud will freeze and the place will look darling. I look forward to that first storm more than I ever did as a kid waiting for Christmas morning. Toys are nice, but a life lived in a way that makes you feel blessed everyday covered in snow makes Furbies about as appealing as the mud on our coveralls.

Here's to friends and sturdier barns!


There are people who wake up every day and give their time and energy to things that upset them. They focus on pundits they can't stand, on politics that make them angry, and reading websites and opinions that fuel their head shakes and rage. They post photos of war and mistreatment and violence. They hoist flags of separation and distrust. These people are suffering, and they gave themselves the cause. You can have sympathy for them, but don't dare offer them any attention or validation. It's like handing a shot of whiskey to an alcoholic. It is an unkindness of the worst sort to perpetuate a disease.

I can not imagine choosing to make yourself angry. I can't imagine abusing myself that way. Value yourself and your practices and instead of pacing at cage bars and snarling, support and rally behind what you believe in. Give your attention and love to the causes and cures that make this world better. Be a force for positivity and you will be amazed at the life that surrounds you because of that choice. Do not waste a minute on the things that bring you down or offend you. You're wasting everyone's precious time. Most of all, your own.

We are defined by the decisions we make.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Slower Highway

Sunday Drive

After the trailer tire blow-out we couldn't return to the parade site last night to load up the wagon. So it stayed in Salem and Patty had the idea of getting dropped off in town with Steele and just hitching him up and driving him the six miles home. Today the two of us and our good friend Joanna had a little adventure trotting home amongst the milk trucks and speeding pickups. But the town sections were just plain fun. This photo was taken by a local antiques's dealer in Salem after we left her barn/shop off main street. Steele did wonderfully. We road down route 22, then 29 and before you knew it we were back at LBF with a tired horse.

The Christmas Parade!

When the pony cart was loaded up in the truck I made one last revision. I went inside the farmhouse and grabbed the two wooden crows that used to hang on Merlin's stable when he was boarded at Riding Right Farm. The crows were a gift, given to me as part of a larger set. I decorate my tree with them and probably will indefinitely. But these two are still attached to the twine the gift was wrapped in. It felt like the thing to do. And putting the pair of storied crows that saw him through those first three months of lessons and introductions seemed important to me. I know enough to go with my gut and I tied them to the back of the cart. As I drove down the back roads of dairies and forested fields to the event I knew they were back there beside the brass sleigh bells, ringing loud and proudly as the sun started to set. A misty fog rained in and it felt good. I am a big fan of subtle precipitation.

The last time I was in a parade I was in a Girl Scout uniform. I remember it fairly well. It was our town's Halloween Parade, and I was in a wolf costume scampering down Delaware Avenue. It felt like someone had blocked off the streets not just from cars, but from the mundane. I was one of the specials, out there to be putting on the show. It's no surprise I grew up to be active in Drama Club and now do a lot of public speaking. It makes me feel a little more alive when there's a spotlight or a soapbox.

So being behind the scenes in the field where the trailers and horses were being tacked up brought up those same old childhood feelings of being part of something grand and special. We arrived an hour before the actual event, and I was feeling a little nervous. In the world of driving horses, your first parade is kind of a big deal. Suddenly that pony and cart you trot through your neighborhood and farm fields goes from the world of pet to performer and everyone expects him to act just as predictably and pleasantly as the new tractor pulling the float of homecoming queens ahead of you. So the pressure is on. You and your horse are to act like professionals, look pretty, and give the public something to point at and smile.

I was in no shortage of support. I was with Elizabeth and Patty. Elizabeth arrived at the farm at 8AM with a cordless drill and a ladder, and helped Brett and I put up a wall of Adirondack milled lumber (Thank you, Brett) on the windiest side of the four-posted shelter. Both her and I had spent most of the day outdoors in the mud and rain, and while the parade was far more whimsical than using power tools the wet chill of the fog and intermittent rain showers felt the same. It was the kind of weather that rattles your insides, makes you seek basic comfort. I didn't have a fireside in my pony cart, but I had a lot of heavy red wool in the form of a riding cape and friends. Sheep and company are really all this girl needs to feel at home anywhere.

As I was tacking up Merlin I got a wonderful gift. Members of the Daughton Family came out from the street side and my heart grew three sizes too big. I miss those guys so much. I haven't seen them as often as I used too. The busier my life got with becoming a full-time writer and farmer the busier I have felt. Add a new horse life into the mix and I was nearly a goner, but to see familiar faces and cameras was nothing short of blessed magic. I gave hugs. Holden helped me check the horse over and attach the last bits of clips and such and before I knew it - it was time for the show.

I backed Merlin up and tried to turn him to the right and he acted weird. He just kept backing up and not turning. This puzzled me, and had I had an ounce of sense I would have asked someone to grab his head and I would double check my work with the cart and harness. Instead the excitement had me giddy and ready to trot so I just turned him to the left and headed into the line up behind a team of heavy Percherons. Patty and Elizabeth had harnessed up Steele to his new wagon and were right behind me. Lights, Camera, Action.

In front of the Percheron wagon was a float themed after Willy Wonka. It was loud and happy. As I waited for the parade to start in my Hobbit cape with my fancy pony, I doubled checked the icicle lights on the tailgate I heard the lyrics chant, "In a world of pure imagination..." and felt like the gods had arranged a memory for me. Everything seemed to be working, everything was lit up and swell. Next to me Christina (another club member) was on her horse Maude. She rode up beside us with her black horse adorned in sleigh bells and holly. She wished us luck and within another quick minute I was asking Merlin to step out and take on the night.

The parade was magical. It was fun, and easy, and stressful and exciting all at once. People gasped at Merlin, pointed and smiled. We were a happy team, and between the music and the twinkling lights and the fog-lined streets it was a dream sequence of the finest order. Just a few slow blocks, but mostly sublime. Steele was behind us and just wanted to trot and act like a young buck does. He reared up a little and the crowd cheered. That photo from last night was a bit of nerves but I never saw an image of Steele looking more majestic!

It was when the parade ended that the real adventure began though. We were off the safe streets of blocked traffic and had to drive our horses and carts in the dark, past idling cars with bright headlights and through town streets. I thought of James Howard Kunstler's World Made By Hand books and how all the Washington County towns had horses and carts on the once car-driven streets. I never felt more like a fictional character in my life. I was lost in that whimsy when the team ahead of us picked up into a trot. Steele and Patty were behind us and decided to pass us since Steele was feeling his oats. I wanted to join in the fun so I asked Merlin to pick up the pace and instead of taking off he decided to kick back his feet. I was terrified. I was within four feet of losing my head to a strong kick and Merlin had never, ever, acted like that in a cart. Never had I seem him be anything but obliging and steady. But he kept crow hopping and acting like he was just about to send me and the cart packing. At this point I just wanted to hold my shit together and get him back to the trailers. I calmed him, got him into a gentle trot on steady ground and he seemed okay. I was shaken. You don't expect to have your horse slam you with his feet in a parade. At least I don't, not with this horse.

When we got back I hopped out of the cart and attached his halter (worn under the bridle - club rule) to his lead rope which was tied safely to the trailer. I got out and inspected that right side. I saw what happened. I forgot to attach the right side hold back. He wasn't pulling even weight, and the shafts weren't even. It must have felt like something was holding him back on his left side, when his right was free to move and run. I bet his acting up was more of a panic to escape the weirdness of the attachment combined with the excitement of the night parade, and it was entirely human error. As I slowly and calmly removed his harness and collar I caught my breath. We did it. We were in our first parade, and no one got hurt. There was close calls, some thrills, and various anxieties and imperfections but we did it. Another little goal met and checked.

We wrapped things up quick and members of the WCDAA chatted around the trailers. Some folks showed up too late and missed the parade. Others forgot equipment and had to sit it out. Everyone had a story of something wonderful or scary that happened. As I was brushing Merlin Jan came by. Jan has a team of very spirited Haflinger mares and they did amazing in the fray. I told her about Merlin's kick and my mistake and she grabbed my shoulders, "You were looking at your horses feet!!" and then hugged me! She said, "Well then! I guess you won't make that mistake ever again!" and I couldn't help but feel better. My shame melted into camaraderie. I think that's the true benchmark of finding a place you belong. Even at your most uncomfortable of moments you get a chance to turn lessons into stories and adventure, well, if the audience will tolerate the spin. Here in the land of dairy, draft horses, deer hunters and shepherds we tolerate a lot of it. It keeps the milk check livable, the horses from scaring us into our living rooms, and the hunts magic with hope and luck.

I ended that parade a little better of a horsewoman, and a hell of a lot better at optimism. Sometimes you need to cut yourself a little slack and sew up the tears in the morning. We loaded our horses and drove off into the night. We, the happy participants, the parade veterans, the survivors!

Lantern Walks & Cold Soup

Folks, I am going to go through the last 36-hours started from last night and going backwards. I'll fill you in on all of the goings-on, starting with last night. Feel free to ask any questions. And I promise not to include any images or mental imagery of full-body knitwear.

It was well-past dark and I was driving in my scrappy truck behind Patty and her entourage. She was pulling hour horses back to her farm after our adventure in Salem an hour earlier. We had just participated in the Christmas Parade and while that was its own adventure we were about to experience another.

We were less than a mile from Patty's farm on a pitch-dark back road when she slowed her rig to a stop and stepped out of her truck. I thought something was wrong with the horses, that she felt a slip or fuss in the back and wanted to check it out. Turns out the horses were fine but the trailer carrying them wasn't. A tire had gone so flat, so fast, that the hot air inside it was swirling around in the headlights like smoke. Patty and I were close to her farm, but when she tried to pull the two vehicles forward it crunched and moaned like the axle itself was being dragged across the floor. We discussed our options and decided to leave her car and trailer on the side of the road and walk the horses back to her farm. Merlin could spend the night at her place and in the morning we would be able to fix the tire.

I am somewhat of an emergency prep dork. In my truck was not only a 72-hour emergency bag complete with first aid gear, a change of clothes, extra socks, food, and water but I also drive with a sleeping bag, flashlights, and jumper cables. It may seem excessive to some, but when you live alone in the country and blow a tired miles from home without cell service, you might be waiting for a while by the roadside. Doesn't hurt to stay warm, have a snack, and read.

So anyway, I pulled out my battery-powered Coleman lantern and was grateful for it. No streetlights out here, and walking a black horse at night on a windy country road seemed dangerous. The moon was a waxing crescent. A mere sliver of itself, barely casting any light. The warm and wet day had left a blanket of fog near the wetlands on the left side of the road. If there was ever a moment to start filming modern day scenes of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, this was it.

But Patty and I had been here before. We've had rough things happen, been stranded on roadsides and understood the immense luck of this flat tire. It happened just a half mile from her farm. So we took or boys off the trailer and walked side-by-side in the hand-held glow back to her farm. We talked about the parade, about the sweet chaos of it all. Both our horses had their moments of naught, but both passed the test with flying colors. They walked along the busy roadsides amongst the flash and pomp and shouting crowds and we were proud of them and ourselves.

As we chatted I kept thinking that what I admire most about Patty is that in her early fifties she is still game to get out there any grab life by the horns. She does this not through the ways you might be thinking, the heroic acts of driving heavy horses and running a farm. No, she does it through her decisions about how she is going to participate in life. Most people go to work and then go home and watch TV. They check email, scamper off to the obligatory family or work event and that's pretty much the sum of it. They have pulses, but that's pretty much the proof of their emotional existence. I did that for quite some time myself.

But Patty does things most people stop doing when they get out of college and she's got me doing it, too. We belong to clubs, and enter shows, and dress up for parades. We attend social experiences no online application has yet to compete with. It's these little events that seem so adorably inconsequential, but they are the kind of things that boil up a hunger for everyday life.

When you choose to take part in life you wake up in the morning feeling like you're going to a rock concert, but instead of watching it you are performing it. It's that pit-of-the-stomach thrill of participation that I think separates the young from the old. And you folks out there practicing for your church concerts, community theatre plays, hunting trips, and SCA meetings (or whatever the club or scene) know that same thrill.

A lot of folks roll their eyes at the idea of being in a club or having a hobby. It's become quaint and nerdy to thrive in a subculture. But I have never known or seen folks happier in this sordid world than the ones who are out engaged in an activity they love and surrounded by support of others who share their passion. It makes all the difference in the darkness.

So we walked the horses home without any feeling of fear or anger or worry. We had just been in a parade, had laughed and joked with people in our Draft Club, and had nothing ahead of us but a hot bowl of Goose Sausage Stew and a wood stove waiting when we arrived back to her farm. It wasn't raining. It wasn't too cold. And somewhere along that dark road I realized the reason we were happy was because we simply chose to be.

Patty changed her entire life to make room for happiness. I did, too. People do this everyday and it is a thousand times more heroic than riding a galloping horse. I think happiness comes not from money or opportunity but from simply knowing when you are not happy, recognizing it without pity for yourself, and changing it. That's the most powerful force in the world. To leave a bad marriage, to seek support and comfort, to forgive and forget. It's those big things, and the little things, too. To take up a musical instrument for the first time, to finally get a passport and book a flight, to get dressed up and go on that blind date. It's the being scared and standing up for yourself anyway. It's the understanding that being happy isn't the same as being selfish. And it's that fine line between being a victim or a volunteer in a bad situation. Happy people are not happy because of circumstance - they are happy because they got out of them. Not that that's easy, but it is an option. Always an option.

You need to be the person who makes you happy. In my experience, the saddest people I know let themselves believe they are responsible for another adult's happiness, that they owe it to them. It is a burden I consider the worst sort of abuse. No one can carry that weight.

That night Patty, her husband Mark, and I sat in the farmhouse and enjoyed that soup with cold well water. We had some complications in our long day but they were nothing but obstacles we both chose to ignore. Tired, content, and free on a Saturday night we just smiled through the conversation. We could worry about the world when the soup got cold.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

36 Hours

So much has happened in the last 36 hours. I haven't been writing because I've been out in the thick of it. I promise to write down heaps of it soon as I have iced my sore body, slept, had a stiff drink and got the wood stove roaring. But tomorrow, darling. I promise. Right now I just want Radiohead to sing No Surprises to me and sip an adult beverage.

Here's a teaser of what's ahead on the blog:

Long hours in tree stands.
Barn construction in the rain.
My first parade with Merlin!
Merlin freaking out (my fault).
Downtown Cambridge Events.
Banjo Camp In the works.
Art Shows.
Weck Jar review/gifties
Season Pass giveaway.
Broke down on the roadside.
Fiddle Love.
Walking horses a half mile by lantern light.
Jazz is in bad shape.
I am tired and happy.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Full Body Sweater!


Would You Like Some Coffee?

Battenkill Books has a little coffee machine near the armchairs. Gibson has inspected it. It's quality stuff, he thinks. He doesn't drink coffee (and I shudder at the thought of a Border Collie hopped up on caffeine) but he does enjoy hospitality. He'd crawl inside you if you let me. Crawl inside and turn around three times and lay down right there by your heart beat. These dogs are not easy dogs to live with, and not for everyone, but they are the dogs for me. Intense, dramatic, obsessed with their work...sometimes bite. Sounds like a farm girl we know.

The Hunt Draws to a Close

I woke up at 4:30 this morning and was in the tree stand before sunrise. It was dark when I climbed up that rickety ladder, and I watched the morning stream in one minute at a time. One goose wing at a time. One blue shrapnel of light at a time. One frozen toe at a time….

No deer were seen that two-hour sit above the world. And none were seen in the three-hour afternoon sit either on another farm in a blind. I think those deer are onto us. That, or this hunter had her chances laid out on silver platters and blew it. Whatever the outcome, circumstance, or chance I have two days to try before the 2012 season is up and the gun gets put away…

Tomorrow I won't be hunting. Besides a non-stop rain in the forecast I have a barn wall to nail together in the morning and a holiday parade in the late afternoon/evening. I am certain the barn wall is being put up but the parade may be a literal washout. Regardless, this farmer will continue to hope for a deer in the last 36 hours of trying. And if not, well, there's always next year? Right?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Gibson's Tribute to A. Wyeth

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Last Chance For These Workshops!

1 Spot left in Winter Fiddle Camp in Feb!
1 Spot left in Herbalism with Kathy Harrison in April.
2 Spots left for the Wool Weekend in Feb.
2 Spots left for Dulcimer Day Camp in April.

And, if anyone who currently holds a season pass wants to order one for the following year, or buy a new season pass as a Holiday gift. I am offering an entire year of workshops to the farm for just $250. Offer is only good through Friday. And with the spring poultry workshops, rabbit 101, and a special emergency farm prepping class with Kathy Harrison: you will get your money's worth!

Parade Practice Drive

For the first time in months I suited up Merlin in harness and a cart and went for a mile-long drive along our quiet country road. Only it wasn't quiet at all. The wind was up and blustery and the overcast sky seemed ominous. There was a road crew working on cutting some trees near power lines across the street so there was also loud construction noises, back-up truck beeping, and heavy machinery going up and down the road. You know what I thought? This is some serious parade training!

Merlin did well. Fantastic really, considering how long it has been. He walked, trotted, and (shhh) cantered along our paved mountain road. He did a few great 180 turns and wasn't bothered by the crs and trucks that passed us. I'm sure deer watched the hunter being silly from their hiding places in the forest.Which is okay by me, most of my heart has given up on this year's deer. Oh well. It's hard to feel sordid in a pony cart.

Merlin handled the cart and me as if harnessing up and heading down the road was something we did every day. Perhaps we should? He loves it and I love it.

You know, I think I bought a driving horse that tolerates being ridden!

Did I Hear, Parade?

Ready to Roll

Yesterday I picked up my repaired and reinforced cart from Tink's place. For ten dollars he welded and painted over the new metal. I was so excited. Not just for the parade in Salem this weekend, but to have my cart back. Merlin is a blast to ride, but there is something special about putting on that harness and hitching him up to that cart. Driving horses is a hobby and skill few people possess any more, and not for the lack of interest. When I hosted The Farmer's Horse workshop back in October there were people of all sorts and interest levels, but one couple from a New York farm south of Cold Antler really struck a cord with me. The couple have a vegetable CSA and were on the fence between getting a team of horses or a tractor. They came to the workshop to learn in a safe and welcoming environment, to get on a horse and behind a cart and learn things likes tack and harnessing. I just got an email from them this week saying they made an offer on a team of Hafflingers! For them it was a no-brainer. Horses offer a kind of work, pace, and nostalgia their members would adore and they would love too. A horse-powered farm means you not only can market a truly sustainable product to your customers but you have these animals you can saddle up and ride across the pasture, or meet new people with, and attend things like parades and trail rides. Ejay and Kim will be cantering across their fields on their own mares by next October. I hope they come back to help teach at next fall's horsemanship and fellowship workshop!

I digress. So the cart is back and for ten dollars at Rite AId I was able to buy some garland and battery-operated lights and this weekend the little Yuletide Wagon will ride along in the Christmas Parade. With garland and lights, and a fake crow attached to the back you best believe we'll be a sight. I can't wait to trot down the city streets with my boy.

To the people of Salem I exclaim, Behold a Dark Horse!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Welcome Will Moses!

This is a big deal! I am thrilled and honored to announce that artist Will Moses and the Mt. Nebo Gallery have joined the community of sponsors for Cold Antler Farm. The folk artist is an upstate native, and great-grandson of the world renowned Grandma Moses. The scenes of my adopted hometown, and many other hometowns around this area, are captures in his paintings. His work has been shown in galleries around the world and his paintings can be purchased as prints, notecards, calendars, and several books. I own a copy of Will Moses' "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and it never gets put away. It is always in my living room, a testament. Here is a bit from the website, for you to know a bit more.

Soft, shadowy foothills dotted with traditional white farmhouses; weathered red barns tilted haphazardly on broad patchwork sweeps of green and hay-gold fields; small clusters of black and white cows grazing placidly in the distance…it's all part of Moses Country. And, the 200 year-old farmhouse, where Will Moses has his studio, is as solidly traditional as the surrounding landscape…the white house where the legendary Grandma Moses began her career. 

Born and raised here, in Eagle Bridge, New York, Will Moses creates paintings that reflect the quiet beauty of this tiny community nestled close to the Vermont border. Will has created a vivid, delightful miniature world, peopled with villagers who have stepped out of the past to charm us with their simple, everyday pastimes.

As a fourth generation member of the renowned Moses family, painting is a natural tradition for Will, who began painting when he was four years old. Encouraged by his grandfather, a well-known folk painter in his own right, young Will was allowed to experiment freely with paints. Forrest K. Moses was totally committed to self-expression and passed this freedom of spirit along to his young grandson. Stimulated by his grandfather's confident approach, Will developed his own unique style of Americana.

Today, Will continues to carry on the family tradition. Although his style is reminiscent of that of his celebrated great-grandmother, it is more complex and sophisticated.

Basically self-taught, Will has honed his technique to capture all the most minute details in sharp-edged focus. It is a technique that has gained him considerable attention in art circles.

Will Moses has had several well acclaimed exhibitions of his work in the United States, Canada and Japan. The Japanese are enthusiastic collectors of Will's art and Will has personally toured Japan with an exhibition of his work there. In North America, Will continues to make appearances at art galleries and folk art shows, meeting friends, collectors and admirers of his work. Recent public exhibitions of Will's work have taken place at the Cahoon Museum of American Art, The Everson Museum, The Bennington Museum, the North Shore Art Gallery and the President Ford and Reagan Libraries.

Will Moses's paintings capture a lifestyle that still thrives here in this corner of the world. You can still find horse-drawn sleighs and flocks of sheep on our backroads. His paintings are not just reflections of our past but nods to our present. As someone who spent the day picking up her horse cart and decorating it for a parade today, I assure you, that statement is accurate.

You can take a little piece of my world home if you like. His website features frame-ready prints and books already signed by Will. It may not seem like a big deal, but a copy of Will Moses's Silent Night?, or The Night Before Christmas signed by the artist, is not a small gift! And even if you don't want a print or notecard in your home, if you have a moment, thank him and any of the CAF sponsors you see here. Think of them for your Christmas Shopping. They make this farm, and this life, possible. So please visit and say hello, place an order, or just check out the site for a peak into my world!